The "Galant document" expose started out last month as a shabby ruse trumped up, or forged, to sway defense minister Ehud Barak in his choice of the next chief of staff after Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi steps down. As it gained national overtones, the police were called in to investigate the document's provenance and put a stop to increasingly unsavory media speculation. It has since ballooned into a major scandal sweeping up Israel's top generals, active and reserve, and hanging over the defense minister's head.
The process of selecting Israel's next army chief has meanwhile been suspended.
The crossing-point occurred Tuesday, Aug. 17, with the disclosure that the chief of staff had been questioned by police investigators and had told them he had received the Galant Document six weeks ago and not reported it.
The document is a letter concerning Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, OC Southern Command including the Gaza Strip sector, as one of four or six generals vying for the post of next chief of staff.
debkafile reports that the police believe they know who fathered the document and who sent it to the chief of staff and other generals. They have also established that the copies he and other generals received had been tampered with to conceal the original's provenance. Reports were also circulated to the media claiming the document was a forgery in order to disguise the source of the original.
Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi was drawn into this morass by failing to explain why he held on to the suspect document for weeks – or as long as four months, according to his opponents, instead of handing it over to the police when the probe was launched.
They say he should at the very least have taken it straight to the defense minister. This argument deliberately ignores the glaring disconnect between Ashkenazi and Barak.
However he explains his inaction, Gen. Ashkenazi cannot come out of this affair looking good – which may have been one object of the Galan letter.
As top soldier, he is in no position to pass the buck and name the culprit or culprits. In any case, hanging out the high command's dirty laundry would show him as having let things get out of hand on his watch when he should have either fixed the situation or, failing to do so, resigned.
Our sources report that the investigation hopes to finish its work in the middle of next week.
The police are under heavy pressure to complete their probe with all possible speed given the potential impact on national security. However, the damage to Israel's leading defense personae is already extreme. The scandalous headlines day after day presenting a picture of generals locked in ruthless competition for the top slot cannot help but erode public trust in the armed forces at a time when the high command and its chief are taxed with preparing the IDF to face threats from Iran, Lebanon and Gaza.
debkafile sorts this complex and confusing affair in its various components:
1. The damaging document was fabricated and circulated to promote the candidacy of Maj. Gen. Galant for the post of Chief of Staff by a group whose leader's identity is known to media insiders but not the general public.
2. As Chief of Staff, Gen. Ashkenazi stands out as an object of opprobrium. He is now busy drawing up his lines of defense, maintaining he will have plenty to say after the investigation is done.
3. Defense Minister Ehud Barak cannot avoid being called for an accounting on the goings-on in the IDF General Staff which is under his authority and a demand to explain why he did not step in and prevent the mess developing.
4. Maj. Gen. Galant will be asked about his connections with a group capable of disreputable tricks in campaigning on his behalf for the post of chief of staff.
5. The media will be challenged for taking sides in the contest among the generals and other interest parties. They will be accused of biased reporting to puff up the story, thereby exacerbating rivalries and dissent within the IDF and defense establishment and blowing them out of proportion – and out of control.
6. The ongoing inquiry has already reached scores of officers on active and reserve service, including former high-ups in the armed forces and defense establishment. It may therefore broaden out from the initial limits of the authorship of the Galant Document and venture into hitherto unsuspected avenues.